The non-arrival of (your letter) prevents my knowing the progress through which you mind has gone; yet I see the conclusion, that, with all love to all that is true and spiritual in the Church of England, you cannot accept man nor men, however exalted, as the authorized expositors of God's truth...I prize among my present and happiest privileges, that I can examine God's Word now without reference to man. Those dear brothers and sisters with whom the Lord has led me to act, demand not my submission to them, nor do I desire their submission to me; let Christ be all in all, and the true hearty love of Him, the bond that binds His members.
---from "Anthony Norris Groves, Saint and Pioneer," by G.H. Lang
The difference in 21st-century America and what remains of the church in Europe is, of course, that men are "licensed" by the seminary with the full support of the people. It is no longer a civil statute but a private and voluntary ordinance having the identical effect.
"Those dear brothers and sisters with whom the Lord has led me to act" were those originally known as Plymouth Brethren and later known as Open Brethren.
I wonder whether these churches still continue to minister, in Groves' words, "without reference to man." It seems to me an unavoidable conclusion that "without reference to man" requires "reference to the Holy Spirit." That is, to a submission to the sovereign Spirit to direct the meetings.
"Authorized expositors" of the Word invariably take up the entire meeting with their teaching. (Thus, it is part and parcel of "displacement theology," the name of my book. I am not hawking my book but simply demonstrating the aptness of the description.) By contrast, when the "expositors" are led of the Spirit of God there is opportunity for every man with a speaking gift to speak, if not this Sunday, then the next.
Where the Brethren assemblies divide their meetings into breaking of bread and "family Bible hour," they make provision for "authorized expositors." Further, the breaking of bread meeting is no longer treated as an occasion for teaching, prophesying, exhorting, or ruling, though men are indeed free to speak, albeit not in the form of teaching, prophesying,..etc.
I say again, my objection to "expository teaching" is that it justifies the sermon to the preclusion of all other speaking ministries in the churches. Also, the notion that there is something specially beneficial about line-by-line expounding of the Scriptures has not been shown to be superior to just good teaching in whatever form it takes, whether teaching, or prophecy, or exhorting, or ruling, cf. Romans 12:3-8.
My interest in the Open Brethren churches is simply due to the fact that these churches in the nineteenth century were perhaps the last churches (in this age, I believe) to exhibit a New Testament church order and polity. So these churches are dear to my heart. I am far less interested in the churches and denominations further away from the NT model. So my criticism of the Open Brethren is due to their heritage, which I esteem. And Anthony Norris Groves, a man I consider a giant of the faith, is hardly known, perhaps even in the Brethren churches. I say again, he was a giant, not that he could tie our Lord's shoes, but he glorified the Lord.